This Lent, we are exploring what must be cultivated within ourselves to further God’s work through us. We are also contemplating letting go of things that may be hindering our positive influence in the world. Please join us as we use imagery, reflections and poetry to dig deeper each week.
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20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
by Lisle Gwynn Garrity
Inspired by Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
I have, like many, often resonated with the elder son in this parable. And, like many, I read it with frustration and a bit of righteous indignation. Why shouldn’t good behavior be rewarded? Why should such callousness be dismissed without consequences? For all of my life, I have felt the tug of responsibility much more strongly than the pull of rebelliousness. As author Kate Bowler1 might say, I have developed my own version of a prosperity gospel where I expect to be rewarded for my good deeds and treated well for doing the right thing.
In nerdy pastor circles, we talk about a theological concept called “prevenient grace.” It means that God’s grace precedes human decisions and behavior. Before we can do anything right or wrong, God’s grace abounds. This sounds so lovely in theory. And then situations resembling this parable come along and I cling to my prosperity-based, transactional version of the gospel.
In Luke 15:20 we see that the father is moved to compassion as soon as he glimpses his youngest son along the horizon line. He does not wait for an apology. He does not require retribution. Instead, he is moved simply by his son’s return.
Perhaps this parable should be renamed, “The Prodigal Father,” for he doles out grace just as lavishly as his son squanders his wealth. Perhaps then I might be less angry about prodigal waste and more thankful for prodigal grace.
1 Reference from Kate Bowler’s book, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. Penguin Random House, 2018.
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